Even without Roethisberger, Pats defense wary of Steelers

Defensive end Chris Long and his New England teammates know enough about the Pittsburgh offense to realize the Steelers can be potent even without Ben Roethisberger.

“One of the best, maybe the best wide receiver corps in the league, best 1-2 punch at running back in the league, good tight ends, best offensive line in the league, up there, … a ton of weapons,” Long said Thursday, as the Patriots prepared for Sunday’s visit to Pittsburgh. “Really good offense.”

The running back pair of Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams and the wide receiver group led by Antonio Brown will be without Roethlisberger, who underwent arthroscopic left knee surgery after getting hurt in last week’s loss at Miami.

Landry Jones will be the starter for first-place Pittsburgh.

“We’ve watched a lot of their offense,” said Long, a free agent signing who has gotten off to a strong start with his new team.

“I feel like we know these guys pretty well. That having been said, it doesn’t make it any easier. From top to bottom it’s a really good unit.”

Bell has run for 263 yards (12 fewer than Williams) but has also caught 20 passes out of the backfield for 177 yards. He is still, however, looking for his first touchdown of the season (Brown has five, Williams three).

In short, Bell is tough for any defense to handle, with or without his quarterback.

“You can just turn on the film and see where he’s at,” New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “The guy plays running back, he plays receiver, they line him up everywhere, they motion him.

“He’s not a one-trick pony. He has an extended route tree. They do a good job of being able to get him the ball whether it’s screens, out of the backfield or passes. We’ve have to do a good job of just knowing where he’s at all times.”

How impressed is New England coach Bill Belichick with Bell?

“Oh my God. Oh yeah, tremendous player,” Belichick said Wednesday. “Great hands, catch the ball, very quick, makes people miss. Strong, breaks tackles, excellent balance, tough, doesn’t run out of bounds, fights for extra yardage. Great player.”

Said Long: “It’s impressive. He’s really a prolific receiver out of the backfield, so we have to do good job on him in that regard, too. It kind of makes it double the challenge.”

Hightower sacked Andy Dalton for a safety, had another shared sack and was in on 13 tackles in New England’s win over Cincinnati last Sunday — earning him AFC defensive player of the week honors.

He was the first Patriots linebacker since Mike Vrabel, in 2007, to win the award. His performance helped turn around an afternoon that wasn’t going well for New England — the Patriots winning to go to 5-1 and they head to Heinz Field.

“Very tough at home. They do play really well at home,” Long said. “They’ve got great fans that make it a wild atmosphere up there, so it should be a tough challenge.”

NOTES: Patriots players were not commenting on the $75,000 fine — and no suspension — levied against Cincinnati’s Vontaze Burfict for his low hit on Martellus Bennett last Sunday. “That’s last week. That’s the rules. I’m worried about Pittsburgh,” wide receiver Julian Edelman said. “I’m not getting caught in that one.” Asked if the rule is a bad one, he said, “I’m not here to talk about rules, I’m here to play football.” Said tight end Rob Gronkowski: “It’s all up to the league. I’ve got really no say in anything.” … Gronkowski on playing at Heinz Field: “The atmosphere is just football atmosphere. You’ve got great high school football there, you’ve got great college football there, you’ve got great NFL football there. It’s just a football atmosphere — they love their Steelers, they love going to the game and it’s going to be a great atmosphere come Sunday.”


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